Sunday, July 29, 2007

Extreme heritage and off-world landscapes

Next week the papers from the Heritage of Off-World Landscapes session at the ICOMOS Australia conference will be up on the website:

It was a fascinating session, covering a broad range of issues to do with space heritage. The delightful John Hurd, President of the ICOMOS Advisory Committee, agreed to be discussant. (I'm still pondering his comments). And we were also graced with the presence of a space scientist, Tim, who worked on the ill-fated Beagle mission to Mars.

After my excursion into LEO and MEO for this paper, I'm thinking of venturing into GEO for my next research, especially as Stilgherrian ( has provided me with a fabulous term to use: geosynchronous taxidermy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

La Terre et l’Espace: Rockets, Prisons, Protests and Heritage in Australia and French Guiana

As promised a long time ago, here is the abstract for my Kourou article which has just come out in the journal of the World Archaeological Congress, Archaeologies [3(2):153-168]

Space technology is often represented as global, modern and placeless. But one of the earliest forms of space site, the rocket range, tends to be located in places of a very specific kind: remote and seemingly empty colonies. Because of their distance from the metropole, these places also lend themselves to hosting prisons, detention camps, military installations, nuclear weapons, and nuclear waste. All of these establishments, including rocket ranges, have inspired reactions of protest. These themes are explored at the rocket launch sites of Woomera (Australia) and Kourou (French Guiana). In 2005, Créole groups in French Guiana were demonstrating against the construction of a new launch pad near Kourou that disturbed archaeological material. My arrival, to deliver a talk proposing that protests in Woomera sixty years earlier were an essential part of the heritage of the space age, revealed the entanglement of imprisonment and protest with space exploration.

La technologie aérospatiale est souvent représentée comme étant globale et moderne, et comme n’ayant pas de point d’attache géographique particulier. Néanmoins, le site de lancement, l’une des formes originelles du site aérospatial, tend à être localisé dans des endroits spécifiques: des colonies éloignées, et apparemment vides de populations. Du fait qu’ils sont sités loin de la métropole, ces endroits ont aussi tendance à accueillir des prisons, des camps de détention, des installations militaires, des armes et des déchets nucléaires. Tous ces endroits, y compris les sites de lancement, ont inspiré des réactions de protestation à leur encontre. Ces thèmes ont été explorés aux sites de lancement de Woomera (Australie) et de Kourou (Guyane Française). En 2005, des groupes créoles de la Guyane Française ont manifesté contre l’établissement d’un nouveau site de lancement près de Kourou, dont la construction a perturbé les vestiges archéologiques de l’endroit. Mon arrivée, (pour présenter une communication proposant que les manifestations ayant eu lieu à Woomera soixante ans plus tôt constituent un élément essentiel du patrimoine de l’ère aérospatiale), a mis en avant le lien étroit qui existe entre emprisonnement, protestation et exploration spatiale.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The first seven years in orbit

The ICOMOS Australia conference is on in Cairns next week. John Campbell and I are convening a session on space heritage, and we're very excited, because Beth O'Leary from New Mexico State University is visiting Australia for the first time. Beth has been researching Tranquility Base and will deliver one of the keynote talks.

As per bloody usual, I'm writing my paper at the last minute (why, oh why, do I always do this?). I'm looking at the material record in orbit from 1957, the launch of Sputnik 1 into Low Earth Orbit, until 1963, when Syncom 1 is launched into geosynchronous orbit. Only seven years to get from LEO to GEO, and then another seven years until people land on the Moon. Pretty astonishing.

Looking at the figures has raised some interesting points. I expected to see a more or less equal distribution of USA/USSR satellites still up there. But the satellites remaining in orbit from the first seven years are almost entirely US, the main exception being Canada's Alouette 1. What happened to the Russian satellites?

One reason they are underrepresented is because during this period the USSR was focussing on the Moon, so quite a few have ended up in lunar orbit or cislunar space. (This makes me realise I don't know much about how lunar orbits work, in the absence of aerodynamic drag. Must find out). (And isn't cislunar a fabulous word?). Numerous other missions were crewed, and thus returned to Earth.

Another explanation may be that USSR satellites were injected into lower orbits than USA ones and have decayed at a greater rate. I won't have time to pursue this before the conference unfortunately.

I am going to imagine a scenario where all we have is the orbital material to work out how humans got into space. What will this first seven years tell us, and how might it differ from the documentary record?

I'm also going to take a closer look at the fascinating West Ford project ....